Oba Oladunni Oyewumi: The man, the king
Oba Oladunni Oyewumi, the Soun of Ogbomosoland, must be counted as one of the lucky few to have attained the nonagenarian mark. With the benefit of such longevity and over four decades on the throne, Oba Oyewumi may justifiably look back and consider the elevation of the status and prestige of the Ogbomoso royalty as one his prominent achievements. Although born into royalty, that essence played little role in his early life. Having lost his father (who reigned between 1916 and 1940) at the tender age of 14, his later successes in life were entirely self-made.
On the demise of his father, little help came from nowhere else. The first casualty of the incident was his education. He had to abandon school for commerce. But even in this less choice, finance and capital were necessary for solvent operation. He forayed into Jos in 1944 in the company of maternal relations.
Coming to Jos was like fitting into an inexorable pattern. After about four years of trading in local wares he extended his ventures to Lagos to buy more variegated merchandise for sale. His trips to Lagos exposed him to the expatriate commercial firms and from which he developed the resolve and confidence to turn his attention to those of them in Jos. This he began in 1950 and within the next four years he had by his resourcefulness and honesty won the respect and trust of the managers of the commercial firms.
The sky became the limit when in 1954 he obtained a major dealership from the French company, Compagnie Française de l’Afrique Occidentale (CFAO). In 1958, he was invited by the company to visit its headquarters in France for further commercial agreements. Oyewumi took the opportunity to turn the occasion into business trip by visiting other commercial concerns across Europe to secure the dealerships of their products in Nigeria. In this way, he concluded a business deal with Beck’s Brewery in Germany to import Beck’s Beer into Nigeria, while in Holland he negotiated a similar agreement with Heineken International regarding Heineken Beer.
In 1963, he began the consolidation of his business holdings by incorporating them under the name Prince Stores Nigeria Limited. Oba Oyewumi returned home in 1970 and immediately began to replicate his business organisation in Ogbomoso. In 1973, he ascended the throne, his selection a popular one. In view of his antecedents, Oba Oyewumi’s primary vision was to enhance the Ogbomoso royalty and to complement this by the transformation of Ogbomoso into a modern city. Indeed the two objectives were inseparable.
The authority of the Soun, by which the ruler of Ogbomoso came to called from 1953, has since the closing years of the colonial period been challenged by some of the crowned rulers in the town and it was for this reason that Oba Oyewumi insisted on the government recognition of the elevation of the Soun to crowned status when he assumed office in 1973. As a result of sustained pressure on the government by Oba Oyewumi, the title of Soun was officially granted crowned status in 1976.
His vision of the prestige of the Ogbomoso royalty began to materialise when in March 1977, the Soun secured a permanent seat in the newly constituted Oyo State Council of Obas and Chiefs following the creation of the state in 1976. His object would not be achieved by being a passive member in the council. He, therefore, determined to be involved in the direction of its affairs. The decisive moment occurred after the death of the council chairman, Oba Adesoji Aderemi, the Ooni of Ife, in 1980, when the state government appointed his successor Oba Okunade Sijuade as the chairman of the council. The Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi, ever sensitive to and conscious of the old-time glory of the Oyo Kingdom, was up in arms arguing that a rotational procedure be adopted and that he was the most logical candidate to be appointed to the office.
The rotational principle appealed to Oba Oyewumi, not from the point of view of tradition but from the demographic size of Ogbomoso in the state. He, therefore, supported the Alaafin in his opposition against the appointment of the Ooni. The Olubadan followed, finding the Oba Oyewumi’s line of thought appealing. The resultant controversy escaped all resolution until the Ooni was removed from the scene with the creation of Osun State in 1991.
Perhaps the happiest and highest point in Oba
Oyewumi’s career was on December 12, 1995, when he was sworn in as the Chairman of the Oyo State Council of Obas and Chiefs for a term of two years. The crowning glory was, of course, underlined by the socio-economic transformation experienced by Ogbomoso since the ascension of Oba Oyewumi.
Conceiving himself as a vessel of change, it was as though Ogbomoso should be turned into a modern city overnight. Thus from early on in his reign he made spirited efforts to reach out to all relevant agencies that could actualise this vision. During the first year of his reign alone in 1974, he set into motion plans for the establishment of a housing and industrial estate; an ultra-modern post office; the improvement and expansion of telephone facilities.
The hospitality industry witnessed expansion. There were three hotels in Ogbomoso in 1973. Today, there are no fewer than 10 high-end hotels in Ogbomoso, including the one owned by Oba Oyewumi, Royal Crown Hotel. There were two banks in Ogbomoso in 1973, National Bank and Standard Bank (now First Bank). There are now branches of several financial institutions, comprising commercial and community banks as well as micro finance houses. In 1991, Ogbomoso became the headquarters of a judicial division following the establishment of a State High Court in the town. The Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) established a station in Ogbomoso in September 2000, which commenced full transmission in 2005; while a state radio station was commissioned in 2009.
Oba Oyewumi’s avid interest in the educational progress of the Ogbomoso area was underlined by substantial philanthropic gestures and donations to many a school that solicited his assistance. He is also at the forefront in mobilising the community in taking advantage of educational prospects that may come its way.
Undoubtedly the most significant of his laurels is the national honour of the Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) conferred on him 2002 by President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Dr. Oduwobi is of the Department of History and Strategic Studies, University of Lagos.